Book: Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova
Author: Laurel Snyder
Illustrator: Julie Morstad
Age Range: 6-9
Swan: The LIfe and Dance of Anna Pavlova is a nonfiction picture book written in poetry by Laurel Snyder, and illustrated by Julie Morstad. The text is quite spare, leaving some of the details of Pavlova's life to be inferred by the reader, until they are filled in by an Author's Note at the end of the book. This subtlety, as well as a sad (though poetic) ending, make this a better fit for elementary age readers than for preschoolers.
Pavlova, as portrayed here, exemplifies the passion that can overcome a person (Anna simply had to dance - there was no other option for her), the success that can come from hard work and perseverance, and the importance of giving back when one does achieve success. Because Snyder keeps the focus on Anna's story, none of this comes across as didactic in any way.
A combination of words and formatting are used to make Swan, though a cohesive narrative, also read as a series of poems. Like this:
Something is happening ...
There's a swell of strings,
a scurry of skirts.
A hiss and a hum and ...
(bearing in mind that the spacing of the lines won't be exact here). The above text is written in white against a gray, snow-filled sky. I love phrases like "a scurry of skirts." Swan is a quiet read-aloud, one that I think will benefit from multiple readings aloud.
The illustrations are particularly important in Swan, because they bring to life details not necessarily spelled out in the text. The two young listeners that I read this book to could easily pick out Anna from the crowd at her first ballet because of Morstad's use of lighting. They had no trouble understanding, from Anna's clothing and the laundry draping her apartment, that Anna and her mother were poor. They could see from her posture where Anna suffered a disappointment. And so so. The muted color palette suits the tone of the story, while Anna comes across as graceful throughout.
My five-year-old pronounced Swan: "Good, but sad." She was able to grasp, despite it not being quite spelled out in the text, that Anna dies at the end of the book. She has since requested this book again - she really wants to understand it. I think that slightly older readers, particularly those who are mad for dance, will appreciate it even more. Personally, though I am not mad for dance, I thought that Swan was beautiful in both words and illustration. Definitely recommended for library collections. Anna is a historical figure well worth learning about, and Swan is a beautifully constructed book with which to do so.
Publisher: Chronicle Books (@ChronicleKids)
Publication Date: August 18, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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